The student visa is one of several ways that a person from another country can enter the U.S. by pursuing a full course of study, either at the high school level, college or post graduate level.
In this article, I will outline the general requirements for obtaining a student visa and the steps needed to acquire one.
What is an F-1, and an M-1 visa?
An F-1 student is defined at INA Section 101(a)(15)(F), as an individual “having a residence in a foreign country, which he has no intention of abandoning, who is a bona fide student qualified to pursue a full course of study and who seeks to enter the U.S. temporarily and solely for the purpose of pursuing a course of study at an established university, college seminary, high school etc……”. An M-1 student is defined at INA Section 101(a)(15)(M) as an alien “ having a residence in a foreign country……………at an established vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution……”.
What is a designated school?
A designated school can be either a (a) college or university (b) community college or junior college that provides instruction in the liberal arts or in professions, and that awards recognized associate degrees or (c) a seminary conservatory, academic high school, elementary school. When a prospective student is deciding to pursue a course of academic study, she should have a list of prospective schools and make sure that they are a designated school within the INS definition. Most colleges, universities, high schools and elementary do qualify.
What is the procedure for acquiring an F-1 Visa or an M-1 Visa?
The first step is for the prospective student to acquire an I-20AB for an F-1 student, or a I-20MN form for a M-1 student, from the student’s school of choice. The student must first apply to the school, be accepted, and have the I-20AB or MN sent to him. The prospective student must then apply to the consular post for an F-1 visa. An application for the F-1 student visa is made on Form DS-156, which is provided by the consular post, together with Form DS-158, some students are also required to complete Form DS-157.
A valid passport, good for at least 6 months is also required, and a receipt for the payment of the visa processing fee is needed for presentation at the embassy along with the I-20. A separate fee is required for any children that will accompany their parent together with a complete application form.
If the student hasn’t decided which school she would like to attend, then she can apply for a B-2 vistor’s visa marked “prospective student” to research schools.
The applicant must show (1) nonimmigrant intent-that she still maintains permanent residence in the home country with no intention of abandoning the residence (2) that the student will pursue a full course of academic study (3) Demonstrate that she has the financial resources to go to school in the U.S. (4) transcripts and certificates of high graduation obtained from other schools. (5) Scores from standardized tests required by educational institutions in the U.S. such as the SAT, PSAT, GMAT, TOEFL, GRE etc.
Applicants with children or dependents must provide:
- Proof of relationship to spouse or children i.e. marriage certificate, and birth certificate.
- An F-1 applicant can apply for an F-2 visa for any dependent. It is recommended that the applicant file for the dependent at that time, but if that is not possible.
How long can I stay in the U.S. to complete my course of study?
The designated school official (DSO) is required to put the length of time needed to complete the course of study plus one year on the I-20 form. If the student doesn’t complete the study within the time designated, then the student must file for an extension.
How do I apply for an extension?
The F-1 student, must apply to the DSO of the school, for an extension within 30 days of the expiration of the originally approved I-20 form. A student is eligible for an extension, if she continuously maintains status as an F-1 student, and has demonstrated a need for the extension, which could be for medical or academic reasons.
What are restrictions on an F-1 student at a Public School?
These restrictions only apply to students holding F-1, and M-1 visas at public schools. They do not apply to students holding those visas at private schools.
- Students in public schools are limited to 12 months study.
- F-1 visas are no longer issued to attend public elementary or middle schools (Kindergarten-8th grade) or adult education programs that are funded by the public.
- Before an F-1 visa to a public school can be issued, the student must show that the public school is being reimbursed for the cost of the education as calculated by the school. Consular officers may request cancelled checks as confirmation of these payments.
Am I able to work while in F-1 or M-1 status?
A student is eligible to work up to 20 hours a week on campus during the school year, and full time in the summer and the student’s vacation. On campus work authorization is incidental to F-1 status and needs no prior approval from the INS, although some schools require some sort of employment work authorization from the DSO official. For graduate students, it’s an even greater benefit because they can work for an entity that shares an educational affiliation with the school. This is allowed where the employment is related to the student’s curriculum or to a graduate level research project. Students may apply for off campus employment only upon a showing that the student is experiencing unforeseen economic hardship”. Students are eligible to apply for this type of employment if: (1) They are in good academic standing;(2) carrying a full course of study;(3) show unforeseen severe economic hardship;(4) can show that on campus employment would not be sufficient to solve the economic hardship and;(5) able to show that the off campus employment will not interfere with school.
What is the procedure for applying for off-campus employment?
The student, must first submit a completed form I-538 to the designated school official. Once the DSO certifies the form, it is then submitted to the INS with the filing fee and supporting evidence to establish the unforeseen nature of the economic hardship. If approved, the INS will issue the EAD (I-688). If the INS determines that the student’s financial difficulties cannot be made up by part-time employment, then denial is likely. If the INS denies the application for off-campus employment, and the student shows severe economic hardship, the INS could determine that the student does not have enough money to go to school and could therefore deny F-1 status.
What other types of off-campus employment are there?
Another popular off-campus employment program available is curricula practical training or (CPT). CPT is defined as “training that is integral or important to the student’s curriculum”. This includes work/study periods, internships, or any type of program that is offered by the employer in conjunction with the school. The requirements for CPT are the the student must:
have completed 9 consecutive months of study;
be presently in F-1 status.
What other types of off-campus employment are there?
The other type of off campus employment related to the CPT is optional practical training or OPT. OPT must be related to the student’s course of study and is available in 4 instances:
when school is in session (part-time only)
during the student’s annual vacation
after completion of all requirements for a degree but before a major thesis paper;
after completion of the entire course of study.
What are the qualifications for Optional practical training?
The student must be enrolled in school for 9 consecutive months, and the student must be in F-1 status. The procedure for obtaining OPT is the same as CPT: applying to the DSO on form I-538 for certification, and obtaining an EAD by filing the application with the INS. A student can apply for OPT 120 days before the anticipated completion of studies or up to 60 days after the completion of studies. The limit on OPT for an F-1 student is 12 months.
As of this writing, the homeland security bill is now law, and the INS as we know it will be abolished and be replaced by the Department of Homeland Security. Please note that this most likely won’t happen for at least another 3 years, as regulations still need to be implemented and personnel assigned to this new agency. The contents of this article, therefore, still apply until and if the regulations associated with the Department of Homeland Security say otherwise. Among the reasons why the INS will be abolished is that the airhijackers of both planes, in the 9/11 tragedy, came to the U.S. on legitimate student visas which had expired prior to the tragedy.
Sean Keane-Dawes is an attorney at law whose firm specializes in the area of Immigration and Nationality laws. An immigrant himself, Mr. Keane-Dawes is especially sensitive to the needs of immigrants and the long arduous process of getting and staying in the United States. His practice is limited to federal law specifically immigration law. He is a member of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the Massachusetts and New Jersey state bars. You may contact Mr. Keane-Dawes at [email protected] or call him at 1-866-skd-law1, 1-866-753-5291.